Monday, December 6, 2010

BOOK REVIEW OF CORT MCMEEL'S NOVEL TITLED: SHORT

Hi folks,

I'm posting something a bit different. Cortright McMeel, a writer I've admired for a long time has his first novel coming out from St. Martin's Press. He asked me to write a review for it for Amazon which I'm posting below. Cort found me several years ago when he founded the national noir magazine, Murdaland, and invited me to submit a story for their first issue. From that moment, we became good friends. He has a dream of creating his own press and came close but at the last minute his financing fell through. We're both hoping he realizes enough from this novel for him to start up his press, which will focus on noir ala Georges Simenon. Cort believes in my work and wants to publish one of my novels as his press's first offering. It would be a distinct honor for me--he's a superb editor and knows the world of noir better than anyone I know.

Anyway, I loved the novel he wrote. It's breathtakingly original and the language is pure poetry. The story is simply, powerful. I hope lots of you glom onto a copy--you won't be sorry.

Here's the review I wrote (which doesn't do it the justice it deserves.).


DON’T “SHORT” YOURSELF—READ MCMEEL’S NOVEL
We’ve seen financial thrillers before—such bestselling novels such as Joseph Finder and James Grippando have provided, as well as accounts of insider Wall Street reporting as Michael Lewis’ (The Big Short) and Harry Markopolos’ expose of Bernie Madoff in his seminal No One Would Listen come to mind—but Cortright McMeel’s first novel, Short, pioneers new territory. Not a thriller in the vein of Finder or a expose such as Markopolos delivers, but rather, Short delivers us a character-driven existential work that goes much deeper than a simple detective yarn or a fact-laden historical work. In Short, we see deeply into the minds and motivations of the characters and all the permutations of greed the human animal is capable of. The characters who people this novel are not only creating a scheme to short electrical power and make obscene fortunes; they are shorting their own spirituality. And… they all lose.

McMeel has created a cautionary tale of greed gone amok, of acts of terrorism as heinous as from any militant jihad, only for fortunes and not souls. A landscape of lust and gluttony, Bibical in its scope. Of the horror of modern society and the moral landscape that has shifted to naked materialism sans any semblance of moral character.

Trader Joe Gallagher becomes enmeshed in a scheme to short electrical power by his boss The Ghost whose machinations include an act of terrorism as heinous as any jihad, and almost succeeds until a tropical storm turns the wrong way and becomes Hurricane Katrina, wiping out all the players in its path. Gallagher has his own agenda and ends up making money, but still comes up short on the ledger of life as he’s fired and loses his wife Celina along the way.

In fact, everyone loses and readers expecting to find a formulaic ending in which characters are changed as a result will discover a much more noir-like finale and one which more accurately reveals the place we find ourselves in the reality of today’s society.

The reader will be rewarded with more than a powerful story. McMeel delivers a original voice that is sure to draw comparisons to some of our best stylists. At turns, the prose becomes lyrical and poetic, as in this passage…

Celina felt comfortable among her old friends. The feeling of being in a nexus of the art world among artists made Celina feel as if she had woken up from a deep sleep. Her eyes and ears cannibalized the room, taking in the various energies, the steely hope of the up and comers, the sucking sound made by the failures and the struggling, the tittering of industry minions and the smug, leering eyes of the wealthy buyers, professionals, middle aged men in pressed pants. She was normally so far away from this and the room began to pulse like a heart beat. Celina was aware of the hunger sweeping over her like it does those recovering from a sickness; the appetite, so long suppressed, returns ravenous tenfold, almost to the point of passion.

…to profound insights…

There is a difference between boxers and warriors. The old veteran’s of the trading floor fought for more than money, more than the game, it was a strange war to them, one that would never end until the trader’s on the other end were destroyed and they were victorious. Theirs was a taste of something that they themselves could not define. The only glimpse of it could be seen when they were up a crapload of money and they had a look on their face that was not of happiness, nor giddiness with riches, but one of relief. That moment which would make any normal man ecstatic, merely served as brief respite for them before they embarked on their next campaign, the result of which would have them losing what they had won or making more. Gallagher wondered if the way trading was for them, a life or death affair, was more of a blessing or a curse.

…and the heart of the matter…

As Stan spoke and praised the Lord and his life and his wife and his luck and his house and his pool and his job and his country and his faith, Milt bore inside his own belly an evil, yellow-fanged, greedy, ugly, growling demon, even more hungry and obscene than usual. Milt felt he saw Stan’s preaching for what it was, a selfish need to exorcise guilt by saving others.

In the end, none of the players escape the insanity. Which is the brilliance of this novel. The author knows the truth of the matter—that learning one is mad doesn’t constitute a cure. This is Camus’ The Stranger written by a spiritual descendant of Kafka and decidedly worth your time.

9 comments:

Bri Clark said...

Hey Les,

Great review...something I will definitely look in to. Question for you. I have a fourteen year old boy that has developed a taste for noir.He especially loves Vincent's work. However, I've let him read The Remains and he wants to read more. I just don't think he's old enough for the rest of what V has out right now.

He's read Aaron Patterson's WJA series. Can you make some suggestions for him? He's mature. The doom and gloom don't bother me it's the detailed sexual content that are my biggest hang up.

Thanks
Bri

Les Edgerton said...

Glad you liked it, Bri. Cort's a wonderful writer and has published many of the leading noir writers in his (sadly) former magazine, Murdaland.

I'm trying to think of good noir your son might enjoy (sans explicit sex!). Tough one. One that occurs to me is Gerard Donovan's "Sunless."

Some other books I think he'd enjoy (not all noir) are anything by Sherman Alexie, Daniel Weiss' "The Roaches Have No King," a novel by a guy who Vince and I shared the same agent--Bill Fitzhugh's, "Pest Control," and Linwood Barclay's "Too Close to Home," Stephan Jaramillo's "Going Postal," and he may enjoy my own "The Death of Tarpons," which has a 14-year-old protagonist and is about 85% autobiographical. There's a link on the site for it.

Hope this helps!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for the review. Will definitely read this, if only for the MC's name -- gotta love a Gallagher.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Cort is lucky to have such a supportive friend. I wish him much luck with his novel and his goals to start his own publishing company. :)

Les, I'd like to thank you for signing a copy of HOOKED for me. My cp Lenny Lee (who is 11) asked you to sign it for me. Lenny is a special young man. I don't know how familiar you are with his story, but he has won the hearts of much of the writing blogging world. It was very special of you to sign the book and to send him a signed copy of Finding Your Voice. Thank you so very much.

Les Edgerton said...

You're right, Anne--you gotta love a Gallagher!

Sharon, welcome! Lenny is a special kind of guy, isn't he! Happy birthday. I see you live in Iowa. Over the past four years, I've spent a lot of time in Cedar Rapids while writing my baseball book on Perfect Game. I drive over from Ft. Wayne and I don't believe I've ever seen that much corn in all my life! We always have to stop at the "World's Biggest Truck Stop" on the way. There's a restaurant in Cedar Rapids we always stop at for breakfast and I've lived all over the country and they have the most amazing breakfasts I've ever eaten. Wish I could think of their name to give 'em a shout-out...

TerryLynnJohnson said...

just popping in from Susan's blog to say how much I liked your comment about the $5 book reports! Wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing that.

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Terry. I'd rather pay my kid money for reading than sitting on the couch playing Game Boy...

He was by far the best reader in every class he took in school and I know it was because we'd begun that when he was very young. I've still got his "book reports" like the one he did on Crime and Punishment when he was ten. What was cool was that he "got it" even at that young age.

Hope you come visit again!

Susan Fields said...

What an awesome review - this sounds like an excellent book and I loved the excerpts you included. I hope your friend is able to realize his dream and start his own press!

I really appreciated your comment on my blog about the book reports your son did. What an awesome idea! My 10-year-old loves to read, but my 13 and 14-year-olds used to but now about all they read is what's required for school and what we read together. I'm definitely going to have to take your advice! I especially liked that you gave him a list of books to choose from. I think a big part of the problem for my kids is just not knowing what to read. Thanks again for passing that on!

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Susan. Another thing I didn't mention is that I gave him a big list... and didn't tell him which ones to read. In other words, I didn't try to "guide him" by age-appropriate books or anything like that. Just let him decide what he wanted to read. I think sometimes we put limits on kids on things like that and many times they're kind of discouraged from reading beyond what they see as a "limit." I just didn't give him any. He began reading Borges among others, at an extremely young age and loved him. And, got him pretty well, too. My wife Mary coined a saying about a friend of ours years ago, when she said Jim "created ceilings to bump his head into." I never wanted to give Mike any ceilings to bump his head into.

As a result, he never read any Hardy Boys or any of that, and was reading Dostoevsky by the age of ten. And liked him.